Psychopathy, Delinquency & Attachment: Testing the Meditational Relationship in Adolescence
Research on psychopathy in adolescence has increased substantially over the last two decades. The majority of this research has focussed on the developmental trajectory of psychopathy and the predictive reliability for future offending (Lynam et al., 2007). There has been a recent shift towards an understanding of potential protective factors that may act as a buffer against negative outcomes for young people with psychopathic characteristics. Attachment has been proposed as one of these potential mediators (Saltaris, 2002). The current research hypothesised that attachment to parents and peers would act as a mediator between psychopathy and self-reported delinquency. Two separate populations were sampled, undergraduate university students (predominantly late adolescent and young adult), and high school students (adolescents aged 16 to18). Participants completed self-report measures of psychopathy, delinquency and attachment to peers and parents, with the university sample doing so at three separate time points. Results indicate that attachment to parents, but not peers, acted as a significant protective factor, reducing the strength of the relationship between psychopathy and delinquency for the university sample only. This finding was stable over a 16-week period. Although male participants reported higher levels of psychopathy than females across both samples, undergraduate females report increasing levels of primary psychopathy over the three time points. Additionally, high-school females report significantly higher levels of primary psychopathy than university females. The focus on adolescent self-report psychopathy is a first in this country. While further research is needed in this area, these findings point to the significance of bonds between adolescents and their caregivers.